12 of the Best Portrait Photography Tips for Beginners

Portrait Photography Tips

The first thing that comes to mind after purchasing a brand new DSLR is how to take awesome photos of loved one or friends?With a little practice, anybody can take excellent portraits with a digital camera. In this article, I will share with you some easy ways to take awesome portraits using DSLR camera.

Of course, at the beginning, you may not be able to take good photographs, but don’t worry, all the difficulties will be washed away as soon as you can manually operate your DSLR camera. When I started photography, there was very little chance to become famous within a short period because that was the age of 35mm roll film.We didn’t have any chance to review the shot immediately after snapping. With the advent of digital camera, everything has changed.

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Now, anybody can start to show excellence within a very short period. One thing you always have to consider is you have to go through trial and error to become a successful portrait maker. The first step to become a good photographer is to:

Know Your Camera First

Remember, unless you can shoot properly using manual mode, you are officially not a good photographer. So, start from the very beginning. Forget about using auto mode and auto focus. The basic of any DSLR camera consists of shutter speed, aperture, film speed, and focusing. Play with these elements and take several pictures of same object and note down the exposure on a book with date. I am sure within two to three days you would be able to shoot using manual mode, which is the basic of making awesome portraits.

Speed Light

It would be excellent if you can invest some money on speed light. You don’t have worry if you don’t have any speed light. I know many who use only natural light to make superb quality portrait. Speed light is useful when you take portraits indoor. Every DSLR camera has a built-in flash that has no power control option and can only be used as a fill-in light. Flashing directly on the subject often produce very ugly shadow. On the other, hand detachable professional-grade speed light allows you to adjust the angle of flash-head and power output manually and automatically.At the same time, they are not so costly.


50mm prime lens for full-frame camera and 35mm lens for amateur-level DLSR camera are suitable for shooting portrait in both daylight and artificial light. Most amateur-level cameras are supplied with 18-55 lens. So if you don’t have a prime lens, you can use 18-55mm as well. Some people like to shoot with 85mm lens also. But as a beginner, I would recommend you to start with a 50mm prime lens.Portrait Photography Tips

Choose Your Model

Finding a model is not that difficult. I think you at least have some friends. Ask them if anybody is interested to give you some time. If you can’t find anybody, then it’s good to start from your own home, like me. I started with my aunt and other family members and gradually become a professional portfolio maker.

If you are very new to digital portrait photography, it’s better to choose someone slender. Because managing a bulky person may be sometimes difficult for you. So many times in my life, I have heard about photogenic face. Do you believe the idea? I believe that. I saw many girls those who are of average look but when they appear before a camera, their beauty burst, even without makeup. I also noticed some girls who look awesome even without makeup looked average before camera. Why this happens is a mystery.

Do not go for any professional model as they will charge you pretty amount of money. I would suggest you to learn from scratch. Primarily your job is to find the angle from which your subject looks most beautiful. Portraits can be candid or posed. I always prefer candid portrait over posed one. To shoot candid-style portrait, you have to continuously shoot the subject for varied angles when your subject is in casual mood. Some unconsciously made gesture can result high-quality portraits. As I’ve told you before, it’s all about trial and error.

Your model should always be in stress-free mood. It’s an essential to capture good portrait. Before taking pictures, spend some time with your model, to make him or her feel relaxed.

Natural Light versus Artificial Light

There is nothing above natural light if you can use it properly. The main difficulty is the sun will not obey your request. You have to depend on the weather, be it cloudy or foggy. Even extreme sunlight can spoil your image. For these,many like to use artificial light.

I shot hundreds of portfolios under natural light. I always choose a bright and clear morning to shoot portrait under sky. The sun emits a photo-friendly light in the morning and evening. Start shooting your model when the sun takes a 45-degree position to the horizon.

Never be afraid of shooting portrait under sunlight. On the other hand, artificial lights are extremely maneuverable. These lights can be placed on multiple positions and allow you to control the intensity of light individually. There are several kinds of portrait lights available on the market.

Fill-in Light

If you like to go for natural light, you may have to use a fill-in light. A mild flash is suitable for this purpose. This is because natural light comes from a single direction and may create unwanted shadows under the chin, nose, or eyes. A fill-in flash will flatten the image by illuminating those dark areas on the face.

Matching Background

Even a super model turns fade without matching background. As a beginner, you should shoot your model in a different location. You can try garden, seashore, river side, paddy field, rocky area, grass field,or even heath land. If you like shooting indoor, you can use staircase, rooftop, railing, etc. The color of the dress and skin tone of your model should match the color of the background. To solve this problem, please study color scheme.

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Composition Is Everything

If you choose a girl as a medium, add some flower in your composition because girl’s softness of skin can match perfectly with mild-colored flowers. Similarly if you are shooting a gentleman, shoot him before a rocky area. Basically, there is no particular rule for who looks better in which background and environment.

The framing of a portrait is also important. Many like to shoot the face only. Some like to shoot upper part of the body along with the face. If you want to highlight some part of the body, then take some close-up snaps of that part. In this case, your 50mm lens will work like a magic, as it allows you to focus from a very close distance. Do not leave any blank space in your composition. Always try to fill the whole frame with relevant objects or color.

Technical Guide to Shoot Portrait

Selection of lens and setting of the camera has a huge impact on the final result. In general, you can shoot your subject with a prime lens that offers excellent clarity. Many high-end pro shooters are using this lens to shoot portrait. As a beginner, a prime lens is an ideal choice for you. If you want to shoot from a distance, then you can use 85mm lens. Zoom lenses are not suitable option to shoot portrait because cheap zoom lens lacks clarity. Moreover, you have to adjust focal length manually. For this reason, I always suggest to shoot portrait with a 50mm or 35mm.Portrait Photography Tips

Playing with Depth of Field

Most like to shoot portrait with shallow depth of field. You may have seen many portraits with extremely blurred background. This effect can be achieved by setting lower aperture settings like f/1.4, f/1.8, or f/2.8 from close distance. Even f/5.6 can make your background look blurry if the photo is taken from close distance. f/8 aperture is considered to be the standard aperture.f/8 gives moderate depth of field. As you increase the aperture number, the object behind your subject will get sharper. In the same manner, if you lower the aperture, the object behind get faded out.
Maintaining proper distance between the subject and the lens is very important. If you shoot your model closer, depth of field will be decreased.Hence, the background would look blur.

Elegant Classic Look (Black and White)

You should always try some black and white or sepia as the gravity of any portrait gets enhanced in these modes. Play of light and shadow gets prominent in black and white portrait.

Mastering Image Editing Software

Flawless images are exceptional. Reflection of light from lens may interfere with the quality of portrait. The exposure could be a little bit up or down. To reduce color noise and other flaws, mastering an image editing software like Lightroom or Photoshop is necessary. In this process, you can undoubtedly enhance the quality of your portrait after shooting.

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